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Sexual violence against Jewish women during the Holocaust: a study of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute's Visual History Archive

thesis
posted on 21.02.2017, 00:03 by Baldwin, Annabelle Jane
This thesis examines sexual violence against Jewish women during the Holocaust, as told in testimonies collected in the English language in the Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive (hereafter, the Visual History Archive or VHA). It examines the experience of sexual violence, as well as the ways this can be understood through the Visual History Archive. I argue that Jewish women were vulnerable to and experienced sexual violence during the Holocaust in different ways depending on the context in which they found themselves. In this thesis, I explore five of these contexts: the initial Nazi occupation period, in ghettos, in the Nazi camp system, in hiding and during flight, and immediately following the liberation. The thesis begins with a theoretical and methodological consideration of the testimonies and how stories of sexual violence are shaped within the interview. In this section, I firstly consider the Visual History Archive, and the ways that the interviews, the interviewers and the systems of the VHA itself have potentially impacted upon and shaped the English-language interviews that discuss sexual violence. I argue that the origins and conceptual framework of the project, and the ways that the interviews were conducted have an impact on how survivors reveal and discuss issues of sexual violence, as well as on the ability of researchers to investigate sexual violence using this archive. Secondly, I consider the way survivors reflect on their decisions to speak about sexual violence. Survivors often discuss remaining silent, or feeling silenced, about their experiences of sexual violence. In the fifty years between the end of the Holocaust and the recording of the interviews, survivors have been thinking about and attempting to make sense of their memories of sexual violence and how it fits within their Holocaust experience and their life story. The way survivors have interpreted and reinterpreted their experiences of sexual violence influences how they tell these stories in their interviews with the Shoah Foundation. In the remainder of the thesis, I analyse the Visual History Archive’s 989 English-language testimonies that discuss sexual violence and explore five specific contexts of vulnerability in detail. In each context, I identify specific patterns within the interview data, including perpetrators, types of abuse and specific geographic location, and consider how Jewish women were vulnerable in different ways at different points in time and in different contexts of the Holocaust. I also consider factors which potentially influenced the vulnerability of Jewish women, such as anti-Jewish legislation, Nazi laws prohibiting sexual relations between so-called ‘Aryans’ and Jews, and rules and hierarchies within the military and the camp systems that dealt effectively or ineffectively with sexual violence. In this section of the thesis, I argue that Jewish women were vulnerable to sexual violence in different ways depending on the Holocaust context. In sum, in this thesis I examine survivors’ English-language narratives about sexual violence, and how these memories inform historians about the vulnerability of Jewish women and female children during the Holocaust. I argue that the circumstances of Nazi persecution of Jews did not always protect Jewish women from sexual assault, as scholars have previously asserted, but rather the conditions of the Holocaust added a specific gendered layer of vulnerability to sexual violence.

History

Principal supervisor

Alistair Thomson

Additional supervisor 1

Leah Garrett

Additional supervisor 2

Noah Shenker

Year of Award

2016

Department, School or Centre

School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies

Course

Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type

DOCTORATE

Campus location

Australia

Faculty

Faculty of Arts